Taking Risks

Did you do anything risky when you were younger? (be honest, now!)   Risky behaviour, whether it involves binge drinking, drug use,  breaking rules (including legal ones), or practicing unsafe sex, seems to increase as adolescence ends and as adulthood begins.   The various biological and psychological changes that mark emerging adulthood can lead to considerable emotional distress and young people often find that they have difficulty handing the new social roles that come with growing older.

According to the psychosocial stress model, adolescents take risks due to the interaction of the various psychosocial stressors they face on becoming adults combined with the lack of good coping strategies to deal with stress.    Much like everything else, adolescents take risks for what appear to be good reasons.  These can include establishing themselves as individuals, showing independence from their parents,  gaining new experiences, or winning the respect of people in their peer groups.     For instance, certain in-groups such as fraternities or sororities can use “hazing” rituals for prospective members to “prove” themselves.  Also, taking risks are often seen as a way for adolescents and young adults to demonstrate to others (or even to themselves) that they are “not kids any more”.

Of course, once adulthood kicks with all the responsibilities that go with it, including employment, marriage, and so on, those risk behaviours lose their appeal (for the most part).    While some risky behaviours can lead to long-term behaviours that persist over time, including substance abuse, adults make more of an effort to “tone down” the risks they take, if only for the sake of appearances.

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.


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